Looking back over the past decade in the UK we have have seen an increase in ‘Beast from the East’ cold snaps and sweltering summer heatwaves. This leads to the question of how we look to build for the future designing houses that address growing heat fluctuations whilst also using responsibly sourced materials, take less time to construct, avoid waste and promote sustainability.
What are known as Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) offer a new way of building to the bricks and mortar examples we take as standard in the UK.
Modern methods of construction can be employed to create whole homes or commercial buildings using factory-built modules or may be used to speed up particular techniques, through innovative working processes.
This approach arguably provides benefits by speeding up delivery, reducing labour costs, eliminating unnecessary waste and can promote sustainability. This method has been used for a while in Europe, especially the northern countries.
Recent new introductions in legislation include elements such as cap levels on water used onsite in construction, with developments having to quantify usage before any ground is even broken.
Here are some of the types of MMC:
3D volumetric construction
Also known as modular construction, 3D volumetric construction consists of units being produced in a controlled environment (such as a factory or warehouse) before being transported to site.
This can range from the base unit being made, or they can include internal walls and finishes installed ready for assembly. Being produced in a controlled environment with the same materials allows for speed and consistency, as well as with quality and precision.
Flat slab construction involves placing flat slabs of concrete that are placed and reinforced with concrete columns, and in doing so removing the need for beams. A key benefit of this method is that it offers flexibility in layout, such as no restrictions on height between floors, and reduces the time needed for construction.
Timber frame construction uses a range of structural frames that have been made off-site in a factory, such as external and internal walls, floors and roofs to help form a combined structure which can be clad in another material such as brick on-site.
Timber frame construction is a sustainable method of construction, using renewable materials, and also offers the designers a great deal of flexibility for both the layout and appearance of the property.
Precast panels are where floor and wall units are made off-site and transported to be erected on-site to form a solid structure which can be ideal for things such as new builds where repetitive projects are made.
Similar to other pre-prepared methods, this offers speed, accuracy and quality, with factory made components following a rigid process before being easy to erect on-site. Panels can include windows, doors and furnishes as well, providing the designer with the flexibility in production.
Concrete walls and floors
Concrete is a highly important material for construction, with its strength, rigidity, fire resistance and longevity all key aspects of making a solid structure. Concrete floors are usually a flat slab of concrete which has been either poured in-situ or that has been pre-made and transported to site. Mixed with rebar, also known as reinforcement steel, it is able to carry heavy loads and increase overall strength, ideal for ground floors.
Precast foundations, also known as precast concrete, are prepared and produced off-site in a factory using reusable moulds and can be attached to other panels to create a structure.
Most commonly used for walls, this method can also be used for beams, floors and stairs. Precast foundations are a very efficient, economical, and practical method of construction, and are particularly useful if weather conditions are poor.
Twin wall technology
Twin wall technology is a method that combines both pre-made concrete and in-situ concrete, which helps with both speed and strength of the structure. Twin wall technology occurs when two walls which have been pre-made are joined and reinforced before the gaps are filled with concrete.
Also used to join concrete walls and concrete floors together, this method is quick and economical too.
Thin joint masonry
Thin joint masonry allows a thinner depth of mortar (3mm or less compared to 10mm) which results in faster laying and improved productivity.
The mortar cures quickly, usually achieving full strength within two hours which enables more structures to be laid in a day.
While concrete is not always the most sustainable choice, timber frames and pre-cast panels can utilise recycled materials and offer thermal benefits to a build.
Photograph: PBC Today